With two days in Kyoto, you have time to explore UNESCO-listed temples and ancient palaces—plus delve into Japanese traditions and participate in a tea ceremony, learn about geisha culture or the way of the samurai, and sample the local food scene. Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Japan’s former imperial capital.
Day 1: Get an Overview of Kyoto, Old and New
Morning: Find your bearings and check off the city’s top attractions with a guided bus tour, taking in famous sites such as Nijo Castle, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji), and the Kyoto Imperial Palace. For more flexibility, create your own itinerary with a hop-on hop-off bus tour.
Afternoon: Enjoy a taste of Kyoto’s food culture on a tour of sprawling Nishiki Market, known as “the kitchen of Kyoto.” Explore the market’s many vendors, sample their dishes, and learn about both typical and lesser-known Japanese ingredients—then conclude your tour with a cooking lesson and lunch.
Night: Kyoto is known for its traditional culture, but you can experience the more contemporary side of the city with a guided evening tour that takes you off the tourist track and into locals’ favorite bars and restaurants. Tours typically include a few dishes and drinks along the way.
Day 2: Immerse Yourself in Cultural Heritage
Morning: Begin your day with a walking tour featuring a serene stroll among the bamboo groves and temples of Arashiyama and Sagano. Or join a food-focused tour through these districts, visiting many of the same sites and stopping by restaurants and stalls to try local dishes.
Afternoon: Delve deeper into Kyoto’s rich culture, heritage, and history. Don a kimono and participate in a tea ceremony, discover ancient samurai traditions, or attend a Kembu sword performance. Some hands-on experiences include swordsmanship and Zen meditation.
Night: Conclude your visit to Kyoto with a guided walking tour of the famous Gion district, known for geisha and teahouses. Watch a performance by maiko (apprentice geisha) accompanied by traditional Japanese music, followed by a multicourse dinner. Or, book a private meal with a geisha who entertains you with song and dance as you dine.